Improving Police Response Time Doesn’t Reduce Crime, So Why is it Still Important?
By Dr. Chuck Russo, Program Director of Criminal Justice at American Military University
In the summer of 2015, the New York Police Department (NYPD) launched an initiative to distribute smartphones to its officers with the intention, among many things, of improving response time of calls for service. In April, the NYPD said it reduced response times to crimes in progress by one minute, thanks to this smartphone initiative.
As early as the 1900s, improving response time and the efficiency of policy deployment have been top priorities of law enforcement administrators throughout the United States. Starting with entire departments on bicycles in 1905, followed by fully motorized patrol forces in 1910 (Wrobleski & Hess, 2000), agency administrators have been attempting to improve delivery of service to their communities.
For most of the last 100 years, agency administrators had been operating under the assumption that getting to the call quicker can increase arrest rates. Research, however, has shown that this is not the case (Kansas City Police Department, 1977). Response times actually have little impact on arrest rates.
So why does response time still matter to agency administrators?
What the Research Shows
Research finds that 75 percent of serious crimes reported are a “discovery crime,” where the incident has already occurred and the crime is essentially over. Thus, only in approximately 25 percent of serious crimes reported could a rapid law enforcement response have a potential immediate positive impact (Wrobleski & Hess, 2000). In spite of this research, agency administrators continue to put resources into improving response time on the premise that it directly impacts arrest rates.
Administrators need to modify their reasons for continuing to try and improve police response rates. There are benefits to the public beyond actually arresting suspects.
Response Time Improves Public Satisfaction
Research has shown that general citizen perceptions of response time were strongly related to their overall satisfaction of police services. Indeed, response time was determined to be the strongest predictor of citizen satisfaction with police actions (International City/County Management Association, 1997; Spelman & Brown, 1984).
In addition, perceived individual officer actions (e.g. did the officer do what the citizen perceived should be done regarding that particular call?) were shown to have a strong impact on citizen ratings of police response. Earlier findings on citizen satisfaction demonstrated response time and officer action to be areas that police agencies can both influence and have the greatest impact on overall citizen perception of police service (Percy, 1980).
Faster Reporting of Crimes
As an outcome of improved citizen satisfaction, individuals are more likely to quickly report a crime to police. If the time delay is reduced between citizen discovery of a crime and citizen contacting police, police may improve the odds of a subsequent arrest and create positive citizen satisfaction with police services. If citizen satisfaction is enhanced, the likelihood of those citizens reporting future crime is also likely to improve. Thus, a decrease in citizen reporting delay occurs (International City/County Management Association, 1997; Spelman & Brown, 1984). This circular model, if true, once initiated may continue to spur steady improvements in law enforcement and community relations.
Citizens have overwhelmingly ranked responding to emergency calls for service as the number one priority of police services. In one such study, 56 percent ranked response time number one with another 23 percent ranking it either second or third in terms of importance. In total, 79 percent of residents ranked response time to all calls for service as the top three priorities of police agencies (International City/County Management Association, 1997).
With citizens placing so much weight on response to calls for service, improving response time can improve citizen perceptions of the police. Improved citizen perception of the police can translate to a reduction in the time delay from the discovery of an incident to the reporting of an incident. The reduction of this time delay can lead to improved citizen satisfaction of police service that can lead to increased citizen–police cooperation. Increased citizen-police cooperation can lead to the increased arrest rates police administrators seek.
About the Author: Dr. Chuck Russo is the Program Director of Criminal Justice at American Military University (AMU). He began his career in law enforcement in 1987 in Central Florida and was involved in all areas of patrol, training, special operations and investigations before retiring from law enforcement in 2013. Dr. Russo continues to design and instruct courses, as well as act as a consultant for education, government and industry throughout the United States and the Middle East. His recent research and presentations focus on emerging technology and law enforcement applications, in addition to post-traumatic stress and online learning.
International City/County Management Association. (1997). Customer perspectives report: How customers of the police department feel, Long Beach, CA. Washington, DC: ICMA.
Kansas City Police Department, (1977). Response time analysis: Executive summary. Kansas City, MO: Kansas City Police Department.
Percy, S. (1980). Response time and citizen evaluation of police. Journal of Police Science and Administration, 8(1), 75-86.
Spelman, W. & Brown, D. K. (1984). Calling the police: Citizen reporting of serious crime. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice.
Wrobleski, H. & Hess, K. (2000). Law enforcement and criminal justice. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth/Thompson Learning